Alito falters on CAP, and Specter and Kennedy explode

The senators engage in an angry exchange after intense questioning on Alito's hazy memory.

Published January 11, 2006 6:10PM (EST)

Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter just came to blows, at least of the verbal kind, over Kennedy's attempt to obtain more information about Samuel Alito's involvement in the conservative group Concerned Alumni of Princeton.

In his 1985 application for a political appointment in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department, Alito called attention to his membership in the group as a way to bolster his conservative bona fides. "As a federal employee subject to the Hatch Act for nearly a decade, I have been unable to take a role in partisan politics," Alito wrote then. "However, I am a lifelong registered Republican and have made the sort of modest political contributions that a federal employee can afford to make to Republican candidates and conservative causes ... I am a member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy and a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University, a conservative alumni group."

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Alito said that he had "racked" his memory about CAP and has "no specific recollection of that organization." Kennedy served a reminder on Alito today, reading him excerpts from a CAP publication in which authors railed against minorities who demand to be hired simply because they're minorities and suggested that members of a gay-rights group at Princeton volunteer for scientific experiments that had been carried out on monkeys.

Alito said he wasn't familiar with such writings and didn't agree with the views expressed in them. So why did Alito join CAP, and why was he so proud of his membership that he listed it on his job application in 1985? Alito said Tuesday that he probably joined CAP "around" the time he completed his job application, and he probably did so out of concern over Princeton's decision to bar ROTC from its campus. But Kennedy pointed out that ROTC was back on campus at Princeton long before the mid-1980s -- and didn't seem to be much of an issue for CAP at that time.

Alito didn't have much in the way of answers to any of that, and Kennedy -- saying that Alito's testimony didn't "add up" -- suggested that the Judiciary Committee go into executive session to decide whether to subpoena documents about CAP. Specter responded with sudden anger, saying that Kennedy had never raised the issue with him before. Kennedy said that he sent Specter a letter on Dec. 22 in which he asked that the committee seek such documents. Specter suggested that he'd never received it.

Kennedy said he would appeal Specter's refusal to entertain a motion to subpoena the documents and would do so again and again and again until Specter acted. Specter shot back that he hadn't ruled against anything yet, then reminded Kennedy that he's not in charge. "I'm not going to have you run this committee," Specter said.

Specter eventually gaveled the conversation to a close, but Kennedy got the last word, for now: Just as the committee broke for lunch, he established that Specter's office had, in fact, received his request by introducing into the Congressional Record a copy of the letter it had sent in response.

At a press briefing a few minutes later, Kennedy made it clear that the letter from Specter's office had, in fact, rejected his request that the committee subpoena the CAP documents. He added: "It's extraordinary to me that this nominee can remember all 67 of his dissents in great, great detail, but he's still mystified about an organization that he used in his job application."

Update: The Specter-Kennedy dust-up ultimately seems to have been much ado about very little. In this afternoon's hearing session, Specter said his staff has followed up with the man who holds the records in question, and that he's happy to turn them over to the committee without the need for a subpoena.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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